The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Important Quotations Explained
1. “This is a murder mystery novel.”
Christopher, who opens Chapter 7 with this quote just after finding Wellington’s dead body, uses some basic conventions of murder mystery stories, but he also diverges from convention frequently, and both approaches giving us insight into his character. Christopher chooses to write his book as a murder mystery because he likes the genre, and his taste for murder mysteries stems from a fascination with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about Sherlock Holmes. These stories, in particular The Hound of the Baskervilles, provide Christopher with a template for his story’s structure. Like many of these stories, Christopher’s story opens with a murder, then follows Christopher as he investigates the murder and uncovers a larger conspiracy—that conspiracy being the secrets he learns about his parents. Using this framework gives Christopher a way to organize his story, giving him a sense of order and control over his story, and by extension the events of his life, in the same way that timetables give him a sense of order and control over his time.
Moreover, Christopher admires and identifies with the character of Sherlock Holmes, and though he never openly acknowledges this motivation, telling his story as a murder mystery allows him to cast himself in the role of Holmes. The traits Holmes uses to solve his mysteries, such as his strong observational skills, the ability to focus his attention entirely on one problem, and his talent for solving puzzles, Christopher sees as his own strongest traits. Christopher, who recognizes that his condition leaves him with distinct weaknesses, notably his inability to imagine what other people are thinking, looks for ways to emphasize his strengths, and telling his story as a murder mystery allows him to assume the role of Holmes, providing him with a way to play up his strengths and downplay his weaknesses. This mindset, in addition to his solving Wellington’s murder and traveling to London by himself, helps Christopher to discover the self-confidence and new sense of independence we see in him at the end of the novel.
Christopher’s story ceases to follow the murder-mystery template most notably when he interjects his commentary on subjects, like math and physics, that seemingly don’t relate to the plot. These interjections often tell the reader about Christopher’s emotional state, even when he doesn’t talk about his feelings explicitly. For example, when Christopher hides out in the garden behind the house after his father admits to killing Wellington, Christopher seems to indirectly comment on his feelings toward his father by talking about the constellation Orion. Christopher implies that his father, who appears to be a loving caretaker but is actually a murderer and liar, is like Orion, which creates the outline of a hunter but is in reality just a series of stars billions of miles away. These digressions from the murder-mystery formula regularly follow chapters in which Christopher encounters a dramatic situation.
2. “I think I would make a very good astronaut. To be a good astronaut
you have to be intelligent and I’m intelligent. You also have to understand how
machines work and I’m good at understanding how machines work. You also have to
be someone who would like being on their own in a tiny space-craft thousands and
thousands of miles away…”
This quote occurs at the beginning of Chapter 83, which takes place just after Christopher tells his father that Mr. Shears is his prime suspect in Wellington’s murder and Father angrily orders Christopher to drop the investigation. Christopher’s dream of being an astronaut represents a fantasy of escape from his current situation living under his father’s authority. The quote comes just after his father reprimands him for not obeying, suggesting that Christopher at this moment greatly feels the need to break away from his father and be on his own. At this point in the story, he has already begun rebelling against his father, by lying to him by promising he would drop the investigation but continuing it anyway for instance. He has also started planning to go away to college, where he imagines living on his own. Both activities point to Christopher’s growing desire for independence, with being an astronaut representing the furthest extreme of this independence, as Christopher would literally be thousands of miles from earth and his father’s authority.
Christopher’s wish to be an astronaut is also closely linked to his condition, specifically the difficulty he has with social situations. Christopher, who recognizes that his condition makes him different—and in some people’s opinions, less capable—than the average boy his age, repeatedly emphasizes that he is no less able than anyone else, and throughout the novel we see him seeking a role where he feels comfortable and valued. He dislikes his school, for instance, because he feels out of place, as he thinks he’s superior to his classmates and being in school with them implies he is somehow less valuable as a person. Becoming an astronaut would prove his worth by allowing him to put to use not only his intelligence and mathematical abilities, but also by turning his poor social skills, which cause him to prefer being alone, into an asset. In that scenario, his condition would make him more valuable, not less.
3. “Mr. Jeavons said that I liked maths because it was safe. He said I
liked maths because it meant solving problems, and these problems were difficult
and interesting but there was always a straightforward answer at the end. And
what he meant was that maths wasn’t like life because in life there are no
straightforward answers at the end.”
Having just learned of his mother’s affair with Mr. Shears, Christopher begins Chapter 101 with this quote. With this new information about his mother, Christopher, who initially regarded investigating Wellington’s murder as something like a math problem to be solved, has quickly become caught in a much more complicated and uncomfortable situation. By placing Mr. Jeavons’s observation just after his discovery of his mother’s secret affair, Christopher implies a contrast between math, which is “safe” and yields straightforward answers even to complex problems, with the much more complex affairs of his life. Through this contrast, Christopher suggests that his situation has no clear solution and makes him feel insecure and unsafe. The situation represents the exact opposite of math, a subject Christopher enjoys and feels confident with, in that it leaves Christopher uncertain how to handle the news of his mother’s affair, or in other words, how to “solve” the problem.
The quote, however, applies beyond just Christopher’s discovery of his mother’s infidelity. Christopher finds many aspects of his life confusing and unclear, particularly the social interactions he must deal with everyday. He takes refuge in math and subjects such as physics and astronomy because they have clear rules, making them easier to understand, and he enjoys their puzzle-like qualities (Christopher also notes earlier in the book that a good murder mystery is like a puzzle). In fact, in his narration he often embarks on one of his tangents about math or science after dealing with a particularly stressful situation, suggesting that he uses these digressions at times to comfort himself. For instance, after Christopher finds Wellington dead and the police officer arrests Christopher for hitting him, Christopher digresses into a discussion of why the Milky Way looks the way it does. These subjects, governed by logic and laws, possess the predictability and order that Christopher would like, but doesn’t have, in his own life.
4. “And this shows that sometimes people want to be stupid and they do
not want to know the truth.
And it shows that something called Occam’s razor is true. And Occam’s razor is not a razor that men shave with but a Law, and it says…
No more things should be presumed to exist than are absolutely necessary.”
This quote appears toward the end of Chapter 139 in Christopher’s discussion of the Cottingley fairies hoax, just before Christopher finds his mother’s letters in Father’s closet. Christopher places great value in logic and reason, and he criticizes the various people who believed the Cottingley fairies hoax for what he sees as their irrational and illogical approach to the incident. He thinks they were not able to see through the hoax simply because they didn’t want to, meaning they preferred to believe the lie—that fairies exist—to the truth, which is that fairies aren’t real. Christopher sees the incident as validation for the concept called Occam’s razor, which basically sums up his approach to anything supernatural or without an obvious explanation, including ghosts and God. Christopher doesn’t believe in these things because they are, in his opinion, irrational and unnecessary to explain the world, a job he thinks best left to science.
When Christopher finds his mother’s letters in the next chapter, however, he makes exactly the same logical error he criticizes here, apparently ignoring the obvious explanation for the one he prefers to believe. Recognizing that the letters bear a postmark from eighteen months after the date of his mother’s supposed death, Christopher comes up with various reasons for this discrepancy, including the possibility that the letter was to another Christopher from that Christopher’s mother. He doesn’t think of the letters as evidence that his mother never died. The parallel between the quote and his reaction to the discovery of his mother’s letters implies that Christopher, like the people he criticizes, doesn’t want to know the truth. He may find it too painful to handle since it would mean that his father has been lying to him and that he now has to deal with the very complicated emotions involved in figuring out what to do about his mother.
5. “And when I was asleep I had one of my favorite dreams… And in the
dream nearly everyone on the earth is dead…”
In Chapter 229, having made the difficult trip to London and found his mother, Christopher has what he calls one of his “favorite” dreams. Since the dream is Christopher’s fantasy, the fact that he identifies this dream as a favorite implies that it fulfills some of his deepest wishes. First, without anyone else around, Christopher would not have to have any social interactions, which he finds confusing and uncomfortable. He would also not have to deal with crowds, which frighten him, and no one would touch him, which he also greatly dislikes. Significantly, the only people left alive in the dream are people who Christopher says are like him, meaning people with the same condition. If only people with the same condition remained alive, Christopher would be a typical person, rather than an atypical person as he currently is, revealing Christopher’s strong desire to no longer feel like an outsider.
Moreover, Christopher likes this dream because if everyone on the earth were dead, he would no longer have any authority figures telling him how to live. Throughout the novel, Christopher has rebelled against his father’s authority and displayed a growing desire for independence, culminating in his journey alone to London. Notably, Christopher does not feel sad his father is dead in the dream—he even appears to enjoy living without his father—and no other authority figure, such as his mother, replaces his father, meaning Christopher must take care of himself. These details reveal Christopher’s developing sense of maturity, and they lead us to infer that the dream is also a favorite because it fulfills Christopher’s wish to live as an adult, making his own decisions and caring for himself.